December 1, 2015
A Grassroots Beginning
With a soulful roots sound and engaging lyrics, Sue-Anne Stewart, a self-described gypsy at heart, is excited to get back to the studio to share her gift. The independent artist took time out from recording to talk life, family and music.
It was years ago, in the town of Byron Bay, when Sue-Anne started busking on the relaxed beachside streets, eventually making enough to record her first self-titled EP. Armed with a dream and her demo, she walked into a local pub, shared her sound and secured a gig playing three 45-minute sets.
“I didn’t even have that many songs. I just said yes. I don’t know how I did it,” she laughs.
It was grassroots beginnings for this Gladstone-born girl. With music in her veins it’s no surprise Sue-Anne possesses a deep passion for music.
Music can be really powerful in making someone feel not alone in the world”
“My great grandmother was a music teacher and my grandfather played piano,” she says.
For many musicians getting their first guitar is a defining moment. For Sue-Anne significance came from the person who handed it to her – her biological father.
It was a monumental time in her life when Sue-Anne, aged 12, first met her birth father. A delicate situation made harder when a year later a freak accident left him deaf.
“It was a big thing. I’d only just met him and then I had to learn how to communicate without words,” she says.
“I felt like there was a real barrier between us. I didn’t know how to talk to him.”
Over time they formed a special relationship which was magnified and strengthened by music. “It was that connection with him that really helped nurture my music,” she says.
“It was something that we were doing together all the time and I was loving it. He really took the time to show me.”
Life on their farm was never quiet. Her father filled her ears with old records and the voices of his favourite artists, giving her a real appreciation of music.
“That was the beautiful thing with him, when he lost his hearing he just really took it upon himself to share his musical passion,” she says.
“From his accident he always encouraged me to follow my heart and live my dreams because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
Now thanks to a cochlear ear implant Sue-Anne can share her own music with one of her biggest inspirations and supporters.
Before meeting her birth father, Sue-Anne spent her younger years travelling up and down the east coast with her family. She attended 13 schools growing up and there is no doubt her nomadic upbringing has influenced much of her music.
At 19 she craved a more vibrant music scene so she packed her bags for the Sunshine Coast. Nowadays, despite having toured around Australia, America, Canada, England and Europe, Sue-Anne always finds her way back to her ‘home base’.
It’s hard to believe the adventurous folk singer, who has supported respected artists like Bobby Alu, Sandi Thom and Ash Grunwald, was once a very shy child.
“I was just a little shy girl, I was always singing to the cows in the paddock,” she laughs. “I can’t actually believe sometimes that I do what I do.”
But one of her biggest adventures has been the birth of her daughter, Tayah, which her album Gypsy Blood is heavily influenced by.
Like mother like daughter, Tayah, now five-years-old, shows an interest in music and surfing. “She loves to sing and she’s got a guitar and a little keyboard. I don’t want to force her too much. I want her to be able to do it in her own time,” she says.
With a new single to be launched and a third album to follow in the new year, the down to earth singer is juggling a lot of balls and says sometimes she drops them.
“My mum was just saying, you know you just need to take your superwoman cape off sometimes.”
The self taught musician never learnt to read or write music and says she just plays by ear and feel. Sue-Anne finds it easy to tap into a creative mindset and describes her musical process as organic.
“I’ll get my guitar and just start playing a little. Most of the time it’s the song coming through that way,” she says.
In 2014 her song Love Gets Sweeter filled lounge rooms across Australia when it featured on the hit Channel 7 television show Winner and Losers. Sue-Anne says she is just grateful for it all.
“I did dream – but I never thought it would really happen.”
But it has. Her gift, taking her all over the globe from performing at internationally renowned Canadian Music Week to events closer to home like the Woodford Folk Festival. “I really like playing live, people being moved by a performance or delivery of a song or just feeling connected to it,” says Sue-Anne.
“It’s the ultimate of why I play music. All the little gigs that I’ve done, all the cafes, the bigger gigs and the smaller gigs they all kind of roll into one making me who I am today.
“It’s good to take a little step back and have some appreciation for it all and see how far I’ve come but I’m still really excited about where I’ve got to go.”
In the mean time, Sue-Anne hopes to get back on the road soon, jamming and touring with the band, with her husband and daughter riding shotgun.